The gift of making someone happy is a beautiful thing. The ability to make a sad person smile is an even greater gift. This is true especially if that person is reaching end of life and find themselves sad and tired of living. My Aunt Alice is 89 years old in a skilled nursing facility with a rapidly diminishing mental capacity. Her situation is not uncommon for someone her age. She’s not in any pain or discomfort but not too much makes her smile or laugh.
Alice doesn’t remember too much about what happens during the day and she sometimes loses context of the world around her. But she always remembers Kali, who she calls Kelly, and refers to her as him. I’ve stopped correcting her on the name and sex because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Kali makes Alice smile. When Alice sees Kali or thinks about Kali she smiles and seems genuinely happy for those few minutes.
Alice never married but was surrounded with nieces, nephews, and other family members and had a very happy life. But now Alice is ready to die. She’s told me that she wants to go to sleep and not wake up. This makes me sad but I understand.
Until a couple of years ago Alice was very independent, even well into her eighties, using public transportation (she never learned to drive) to run errands and go about her daily life. She maintained her home of 40 years with little help and I always considered her a very strong and determined person – physically and emotionally – even though she is only four feet eight inches tall. It was always a milestone for my kids when as eight or nine year olds they passed Alice in height. She and I would laugh about that as each kid grew taller than her. A low ( so to speak) bar but none-the-less a milestone. At Christmas Alice would decorate her house with hundreds, if not thousands, of decorations. Her home looked like Macy’s department store during the holidays. She had talking decorations, decorations that lit up, four-foot tall animation carolers that sang, and so many glittery shiny objects my kids eyes would spin the first time of the season that we visited Alice’s “Winter Wonderland”.
A couple of years ago Alice became sick and went into the hospital. She recovered but she was unable to move back to her home because she required more personal care. I helped her to move into an assisted living center. As my family and I cleaned out her house and prepared it for sale I found many half finished projects, partially assembled furniture items and tools, gadgets, and appliances. Even at less than 5 feet tall, in her eighties, and using public transportation Alice was determined to not succumb to relying on others to take care of her, her house, or her affairs.
So I understand that now that Alice must rely on caretaker for every-day activities like getting out of bed and walking, she has lost the will to live.
When I visit Alice she smiles as I walk into the room. She loves me and I her. She’s my godmother and she’s been in my life my entire life. We know each other very well. But as I greet her, as much as she loves me, the smile quickly fades and she seems to retreat to the emptiness she feels. But it’s different with Kali. When Kali visits Alice smiles broadly and the smile remains as her eyes are fixed on Kali. “Hi Kelly”, she says as she extends her hand to Kali. Alice remains in the moment and, for these few moments in time of an 89 year life, Alice is happy.
Kali is not unique in this ability to deliver happiness but none the less it makes me happy during those moments, and thinking upon it now, that Kali can make someone I love so much who has lost the will to live want to live in those moments.